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Explains loneliness, including the causes of loneliness and how it relates to mental health problems. Gives practical tips to help manage feelings of loneliness, and other places you can go for support.

About loneliness

Many of us feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone's experience will be different.

Some people describe loneliness as the feeling we have when our need for social contact and relationships isn’t met. But loneliness isn’t the same as being alone.

You may feel content without much contact with other people. But others may find this a lonely experience.

Some people may only feel lonely at certain times. But some people may experience chronic loneliness. This is a deep feeling of loneliness that goes on for a long time. You may be around others and still feel like you’re alone.

Some people might think that you need to live alone to feel lonely. Or that being lonely means not having many friends or family around you.

But you can have lots of social contact and support and still feel lonely. Especially if you don't feel understood or cared for by the people around you.

One thing I've learned is the difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely - and how you can feel lonely in a crowd full of people, but quite peaceful and content when alone.

Is loneliness a mental health problem?

Feeling lonely isn't a mental health problem. But having a mental health problem can increase feelings of loneliness. For example, if you’re struggling with your mental health, you may:

  • Avoid social events and activities you usually enjoy
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Find it hard to try new things and worry about engaging with others
  • Find it difficult to speak to people about how you’re feeling, for fear of stigma or not being understood
  • Feel like you could be a burden to others
  • Feel overwhelmed in busy public places, or at work events and parties

I want to be able to interact with people and make new connections, but my anxiety feels like an invisible barrier that I can't break through.

Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if you've felt lonely for a long time.

Some research suggests that loneliness can increase stress. It's also associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems. For example, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and sleep problems.

My anxiety and depression isolates me from people and stops me from being able to do the things I'd like to do. So socially it cuts me off.

What causes loneliness?

Loneliness has many different causes. These vary from person to person. We don't always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely.

Certain life events or experiences may make you feel lonely, such as:

  • Experiencing a bereavement
  • Going through a relationship break-up
  • Retirement
  • Changing jobs
  • Starting at university
  • Experiencing mental health problems
  • Becoming a parent 
  • Moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks

You may feel lonely at certain times of the year. For example, around holidays like Christmas, Ramadan or Valentine's day.

Research suggests that some people are more vulnerable to loneliness than others. For example, if you:

  • Have no friends or family
  • Are estranged from your family
  • Are a single parent or care for someone else, and find it hard to maintain a social life
  • Belong to minority group and live in an area where there aren't many people with a similar background to you 
  • Are excluded from social activities because of mobility problems
  • Don't have much money for certain social activities
  • Are shielding because you're at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or other conditions
  • Experience discrimination and stigma because of a disability or long-term health problem. For example, mental health problems
  • Experience discrimination and stigma because of your gender, race or your gender or sexual identity 
  • Have experienced sexual or physical abuse, which may mean you find it harder to form close relationships with other people

When I suffered from anorexia it fed into so many areas of life. It was all-consuming. One of those areas was loneliness. It was something that I felt for such a long time.

Loneliness and money 

Many of us are struggling with money right now. This may have an impact on how often we can see other people. This can affect our wellbeing and how lonely we feel.

If you can’t afford the things you need, help is out there. Visit our pages on money and mental health to find out more about what support might be available to you.

This information was published in June 2023. We'll revise it in 2026. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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